We're drinking less, but female 'boozy boomers' are defying trends

Meredythe Crane has cut her consumption of alcohol by half.
Meredythe Crane has cut her consumption of alcohol by half. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Meredythe Crane was never a heavy drinker, consuming at most six generous glasses of wine over a week, with about half of that on a night out with friends.

But when she reached her 50s, she saw the risk of getting stuck in an unhealthy spiral of drinking, and cut her intake by half - bucking the trend for her age group.

"I didn't like the fact you'd lose control and you'd struggle the next day," Ms Crane, from Canberra, said.

Australians are drinking less alcohol, but one group is worrying experts.
Australians are drinking less alcohol, but one group is worrying experts. Photo: Andrew Quilty

"I'm aware there are people who drink lots in my age group. It's probably because they associate with people who drink in the same way, and children have left the home and women are no longer running around after them."

Studies show that while Australians are quaffing less alcohol, those over the age of 40 are increasingly drinking at risky levels (two standard drinks or more a day).

Much of the spotlight has been on women in the 40-49 age group, with talk of mothers swilling wine - sometimes referred to as "mummy juice" - and catching up to men.

But a study by La Trobe University researchers found that while the gap between the risky drinking rates of men and women between 2001 and 2013 remained stable, in the 50-59 and 60-69 age groups, there was a "significant gender convergence".

In these "Baby Boomer" age groups, lead author Michael Livingston says, women are drinking more and men are drinking slightly less.

In the 50-59 age group, the gender gap was narrower, with men's risky drinking rates falling by 5 percentage points to 27 per cent and women's increasing by 4 percentage points to 12 per cent.


"I think the gap is narrowing because of generational reasons - the Baby Boomers are in their 50s and 60s and these women came to age when there was big social change and when alcohol was more accessible," Dr Livingston said.


However he was at pains to point out that men were drinking at risky levels two to four times the rate of women, depending on the age group.

Michael Thorn, chief executive of Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).
Michael Thorn, chief executive of Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE). Photo: Supplied

"Men remain two to [four] times as likely to drink at risky levels and experience nearly three times the burden from injury and disease related to alcohol," he said.

"Meanwhile, women’s drinking, and especially heavy drinking, generates disproportionate media interest which often relies on particularly stigmatising discussions of women’s drinking."

Michael Thorn, chief executive of Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, said female Baby Boomers engaged in risky drinking because they had greater disposable incomes and more time as children leave the nest.

"They’re the 'boozy boomers'. They aren't always working, they're travelling the world, they're healthier, wealthier and able to drink," he said.

"They're in their retirement phase and many of them aren't on medications, which in the future may force them off alcohol."

A recent Nielsen survey found Baby Boomers enjoyed their drink, with more than two-thirds reporting they had consumed an alcoholic beverage in the past month, compared to just over half of Millennials (aged 18-34) and two-thirds of Generation X (aged 35-54).

"Baby Boomers’ favourite tipple is a glass of wine, and beer a close second favourite," the research firm said. "They are also more likely to have had scotch or whisky in the past month."

Overall, Australia's boozing habits are on the wane. Between 2001 and 2016, the proportion of Australians who drank alcohol daily declined from 8.3 per cent to 5.9 per cent.

In that time, the proportion of those who abstained from alcohol grew from 9.6 per cent to 14.5 per cent, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

"One of the reasons is the focus on healthiness, but another reason is changing demographics - more people are from non-drinking cultures," Mr Thorn said.